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Nakawak (PC) artwork

Nakawak (PC) review

"Metroid II didn't quite reach classic status. Nakawak won't come close."

“What’s that thing supposed to be?” shouldn’t be your first words upon taking a new game out for a test drive, and taking that initial glimpse of the protagonist in action. But it’s what I said to myself when I took control of Nakawak’s hero on day one. He’s a stick figure, with big ears, or curved, ram-like horns atop his head. The developers let on that he’s supposed to be some sort of bipedal dog, so I suppose they really are ears, but crafting your project around an avatar that looks like an emaciated mouse as drawn by a child is not a good start. We’re not flying out of the gate here.

If the issue of the hero’s looks were an isolated incident, I could perhaps look past it; but Nakawak is a game that wants so hard to be like Metroid II – right down to purposefully going with the black-and-white look – without putting the requisite work in to be atmospheric, which was that very old GameBoy title was all about. Our mouse-dog-man doesn’t look so hot, and neither does the cast of characters he’s tasked with wiping out. One of the greatest threats to his existence are balls. There are two types that I came across: a medium bullet sponge and a ridiculously absorbent variety. It felt almost silly to be hitting evasive maneuvers to break these balls, but their health meter required it.

Of course there are more enemies on the roster than just the balls; we’ve got inchworms (crudely animated upper case “U’s”), diagonally and occasionally firing turrets, giant flies, and a few acceptable alien types, rounding out the group. It’s not an inspiring bunch to say the least. Nakawak’s music too, fails to assist in the immersion, consisting mainly of bleeps and bloops and often bordering on offensive. I recognize that the ‘hardware limitations’ are likely intentional, but I’ve heard amazing tunes on actual GameBoy hardware – who doesn’t hum along to even the ancient original Tetris main theme?

Nakawak (PC) image

Our quest, as it were, centres on unlocking some mysterious seal to exit the Undercity where heinous monsters dwell, to find enlightenment on the surface by dispatching The Three Beasts. The bosses are the largest and most detailed sprites in the game, but most of them can be eliminated from a distance, using the coward’s approach of getting a few licks in and then beating a hasty retreat. In fact, I didn’t even see the full countenance of one of them because I was pot-shotting it from afar.

Reaching these bosses requires spelunking through same-looking corridors, following a very basic map. Each room is bookended with a healing/save room which I found I was often in desperate need of upon arrival; not because the game offers a fair, steep challenge, but because when navigating platforms, you can’t see what’s below you, and so you’re often dropping directly into patrolling enemies. The invincibility window after taking a hit is also criminally short, so a clean run through a room can be undone in seconds by simply dropping to a lower ledge into the midst of unforeseen enemies or dodgy alien pool.

The metroidvania progressions are decidedly run-of-the-mill: you’ll uncover health and weapon boosts, the ability to crouch and shoot, a double jump, and a diagonal downward and then, upward shot. Areas off-limits to you initially will be unlocked in obvious fashion by the crawl shot and double jump; similarly shooting downward acts as Nakawak’s bomb, taking out floors and permitting you to descend to new areas. Sadly, even the basic mechanics are flawed, as tapping down on the controller makes you drop to a knee and aim directly up, and a second downward tap is required to bring you to all fours in order to aim forward. It’s clunky to write, and clunky in practice.

Nakawak (PC) image

I wanted to like Nakawak; it’s a retro, black-and-white GameBoy style, metroidvania game, and I have an unhealthy love for all gaming things this charmingly aged, and all things metroidvania when executed even halfway right – I felt uniquely qualified to embrace it. In fact, I recently powered up my favourite GameBoy game, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge, and played the emulated version in windowed mode on my laptop, which, incidentally is exactly how I played Nakawak. The comparison did not favour the 2017 title. Konami’s 1991 effort looks and sounds miles better, and is a much larger game despite it not being a proper adventure game (this was a pre-Symphony of the Night series entry).

There are metroidvanias which are small in scope, such as the fairly recent Xeodrifter, that do what Nakawak has attempted with far greater aplomb, though the former game benefited from being rendered in full colour and being designed by a team with a proven pedigree. But it pains me to say that even Tiny Dangerous Dungeons, an even more recent mobile phone game, rendered in black-and-white, is far superior to Nakawak in cleverness, presentation, and scope. It pains me to say, because as I say, I love nearly all things retro. Nearly.


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Staff review by Marc Golding (October 16, 2017)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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